In real life, I’m about to turn 70, or someone who looks a lot like me in the mirror in the morning is about to turn 70. It’s 2020, and I was born in 1950, which would tend to insinuate by basic mathematical calculation that I’m now almost (let’s not get carried away!) 70. My birthday is still a ways away in June.
But just a minute. Me, 70? That can’t be right. I don’t feel like 70. I don’t think like 70. At least I don’t think that I think like a 70-year-old thinks. And who knows how a 70-year-old thinks anyway? For one, many of us in the past never got to this point in life; lifespans were much shorter. And for two, many of the rest of us who did and have gotten to be 70 and beyond are too busy with aches and pains, doctor’s appointments, yoga, seeking public office, looking for partners in their 20’s and 30’s, getting drunk in the afternoon or Oy vey celebrating a thousand other ways of denying to even think about noting.
That being said, I have to admit that people now ask for my opinion a lot more than they used to. And at times people give me to believe by the way they listen to my responses that my observations of life might actually have some weight. The weight of air, truth be told: Little do these people know how little I know. You’ve lived so much and seen so much, people now say. But just for the record, being 70 or thereabouts doesn’t make anything anyone of us says or does right, deep, attractive or even reasonably well-thought-out just because. Good Lord, Trump is 73. And in the interests of political fairness, Biden is 77, Warren – just like me – is 70 this year, and Sanders is 78.
I didn’t die in my 20’s, or in my 30’s. Or in my 40’s or even in my 50’s though I angsted about dying all through those years plenty – is angst even a verb in English? And, not even as a small aside, I have been known to have suicidal thoughts. Now, many of my friends and family members from those times are gone, internal collateral damage to my obstinate refusal to make a decision to end my life long ago.
Get over it, just get on with your life, I hear you saying. Every single one of us is getting older day in day out. It’s called being alive! (That’s you again.) My New York therapist used to put it to me in as many words during our sessions. You’ll be dead, buried and gone forever, she would say. Whatever this is, this is better, her words.
I get it. I got it even when I wasn’t even close to being 70.
I celebrated my 50th birthday in a swell hotel in Paris. Swell is arch, of course. But the hotel was swell not because of its meager 2-person ancient elevator, nor for its exorbitant room rates, and not even for its oh so chic and tastefully re-imagined rooms, but because the croissants, butter and jam in the hotel dining room in the morning were why croissants were ever invented. It wasn’t what I had planned on that visit to Paris, but it’s what I remember – I enjoyed the perfect croissant in France on my 50th birthday.
And for my 60th birthday, I was in/at/on Machu Picchu –choose your preposition – in Peru. To be honest, I was flailing in the shade of Inca precision rock constructions at a great height fighting for breath due to my asthma for much of my visit. But I was there. And if I’m being totally honest, my favorite part of my visit to Cuzco and Machu Picchu was the one night I spent at the railroad hotel in Ollantaytambo, an overlooked calming way station on the mythical route between present day Peru and its distant past. The esthetic sparseness of my room and its soaring mountain vistas impressed and calmed me. Not to mention that it was there that I first learned how to set my iPad alarm clock. It worked. I made my early morning train –- it was literally outside the hotel door — to get to as it turned out a lack of breath high in the Peruvian Andes.
I remember both decade birthdays for odd unplanned details. My decades have always been mathematically easy. I was 10 in 1960, 20 in 1970 and so on.
Bigger plans tend to go by the wayside. Intentions go by the wayside. Twice in my life, I thought I was going to move to Barcelona. It never happened. I also thought I was going to live in Mexico City. That hasn’t happened either. Unanticipated turns of events, on the other hand, have come about. I lived in an 1850’s cottage down a dirt road in upstate New York for years. And then, I spent years in Sarasota, Florida. Florida is never a place that I would have pictured myself in when younger. And did I ever think I was going to live in South America? No. And yet here I am, 10 years on, a resident of Bogotá, Colombia.
I did spend many of the middle years of my life in New York City, and I celebrated many birthdays there.
I arrived in New York in 1979. I was 29. I hate you, someone said to me at a party just this past weekend in Bogotá – not for how easy it is for me to remember how old I am in any specific year, but because You lived in New York in the 70’s and 80’s! There it is again, You’ve lived through so much.
Just to be clear, I never went to Studio 54. I never hung out with Andy, or Bianca, or Liza. I never went to the Anvil or any of the other sex clubs. I was just a regular Joe eking out a living at minimum wage in an extraordinary city at an extraordinary moment in time. I loved every moment of those years, every daily sweaty running for the subway, every bounding up staircases at Grand Central and every getting to my morning midtown classroom to teach just on time. I loved every getting home late at night, having earned just that little bit of money that made it possible for me to continue living in New York City.
I loved being young in New York in the 1980’s. Now, people believe that just to have been there, to have walked on those streets where a legal decision allowed booksellers along 2nd in the 50’s blocks to sell hardcover bestsellers at discounted prices, where pasta was still being freshly made at a popular restaurant window that I passed every day on 43rd,, where there was still an Automat on 42nd is the equivalent of having lived through Nirvana. Who knows?
I do remember that my older brother – we were peas of the same pod, literally – when he was visiting from Ireland sat me down in front of the Citicorp Building at 53rd and 3rd when I was 32 or 33. I was on a lunch break from teaching classes. Life goes fast, he told me. Embrace this. Live, were his exact words. Don’t fuck around, are the words that I remember, though I don’t think that those are the words that he said. Don’t fuck this up are more specifically the words that I remember now.
Did I or didn’t I fuck it up? I don’t know. My brother, one of my few judges, is long gone. Now, it’s just me.
And where am I going to celebrate being 70? That I don’t know either. But 80 is next on the horizon. And just for the record, and according to what I hear, 80 is the new 60.